Thursday, August 21, 2008

Old Ironsides on the Mystic River

On August 21st, Burt Logan, director of the U.S.S. Constitution Museum presented Shipyard Owners, Ropewalk Workers, Sailors, and the Women They Left Behind at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum in Charlestown.

Mr. Logan shared many fascinating facts about the storied ship, including the fact that it was one of the first six ships commissioned by Congress to be built in the creation of our Navy. Additionally, there are many aspects about the USS Constition that made it revolutionary in both design and function.

Participants also learned the differences between Naval service and merchant service. Based on America and the Sea: A Maritime History, (Labaree, Fowler, Sloan, Hattendorf, Safford, German) and Jack Tar (Henderson, Carlisle) teachers learned about the many sacrifices and hardships both sailors and their loved ones faced when serving in the United States Navy during the eighteenth and nineteenthth centuries.

Many aspects of these difficulties were explored, including the plight of David Debias, a Boston-born sailor who served on the Constitution as an officer's servant in 1806. In 1838, while in private service, he was arrested as a slave in Mobile. The government was notified of this incident and was asked to intervene on Debias's behalf. To this day, it is still a mystery what became of Debias, a black man who gave many years of service to his country.

Then there was Phillip Brimblecom, a sailor born in Marblehead whose arm was amputated when his frigate, the Constitution battled against HMS Java in 1813. As a result, surgeon Amos Evans issued him a certificate attesting to his injury and entitling him to a $12.00 per month pension. In the following years, Brimblecom writes to the Navy requesting employment or an addition to what he attests to be a $6.00/month pension. Although there is evidence to support the fact that he worked in the Charlestown Navy yard in 1817, by 1820 Brimblecom asks the government to grant him additional financial support. It is unknown what became of Brimblecom's requests.

Lucy Alton was widowed on April 14, 1819 while her husband Alton German was serving on the U.S.S. Jones. Having served aboard the USS Constitution in July of 1810 and numerous other ships until his death, German sacfificed many years of service to his country. Records show that Lucy never received a pension despite the fact that there is evidence that requests were made to the government as last as 1837. Upon turning 21 years old, however, her eldest son Lewis did receive an orphan's pension of $25.00 per month.

After Mr. Logan's presentaion, the participants were treated to a tour of the ship itself. The tour included an in-depth exploration of all decks, including the sailors' and officers quarters. A highlight of the tour was the rare opportunity for the teachers to stand on the keel (the only surving part of the original structure) and view the powder room.

This was an experience that literally brought history to life!


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